In the Garden:
Mid-Atlantic
May, 2005
Regional Report

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1774

Water hyacinths are best used in a container water garden because they can become invasive in ponds.

Water: Featured Flops

Sometimes the voice of experience is a strong one, pushing us onward to build upon the past and move on to further successes. Other times, a disregard for the past destines us to repeat our mistakes. How do I know this?

I like container water gardens -- water features that are portable and can be set up and then moved at will. They add flexibility, excitement, and lots of fun to the garden. They allow us to have a flash of fish and exotic plants in unexpected places. They allow us to have a water garden in locations where a true pond in the ground would be impossible.

Thanks to container water gardens, we can have a water garden without digging a gaping hole. We can have a water garden despite rocky ground. We can put one on the patio, on the deck, in the house, or in the center of the lawn. We can have a container water garden with or without pumps, fountains, and water jets. We can take it with us if we ever move away. And we can have it now, meaning as soon as you can unpack it or unload it from your car and fill it with the garden hose.

This ease of installation may lead us to reckless abandon. Sometimes we ignore basic rules. We forget that waterlilies need full sun, pumps need electricity from an outlet that is grounded, goldfish will freeze to death in the winter if your pond freezes solid, and even a small stillwater pond can attract mosquitoes if it is not dosed regularly with dunks to prevent them. And for clear water, you still need to balance your plantings, shade the surface, plant underwater plants to serve as oxygenators and help absorb any excess nutrients and help fight algae.

Plus, we still need to follow the basic rule, probably the hardest rule of all: be really careful not to overstock a pond with fish, and never, ever overfeed your fish. Fish are greedy eaters, but the leftover food will foul the water and encourage algae.

Last but not least, even a small pond can get nasty if crab apples fall into it from an overhanging tree. So keep it clean.

A Balancing Act
Probably my favorite flop was planting water hyacinths in my pond. It was so simple. I just tossed them in and they floated along merrily. That night they were touched by frost and by the next morning they didn't look too good. A few weeks later I tried again. Soon all of the algae disappeared. The water hyacinths were huge. But the lilies were no longer blooming.

What happened? The greedy hyacinths were using all of the nutrients in the pond. Solution: plant them in pots where they can be fertilized, or cull as needed so you grow just enough of them to keep the water clear.

Keep in mind that water hyacinth is fine in a contained pond but it should not be let loose in the wild. In our region it will freeze to death each winter but in warmer areas it is invasive and causes havoc with the natural ecosystem.

My final hint: Be patient! In spring and in new ponds algae blooms are to be expected. It takes time for the plants to come into active growth and for the pond to come into balance. Once that happens, all you need to do is sit back and enjoy!


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